Telecom stakeholders: private football broadcasting rights deal violates competition law

The consortium of telecom stakeholders Delta Fiber, KPN, Odido (formerly T-Mobile) and VodafoneZiggo wants to get round the table with Eredivisie CV (ECV) and take part in an orderly and transparent bidding process for the broadcasting rights to Dutch football. On Wednesday evening, the consortium learned through the media that ECV and ESPN intend to close a deal to exploit the Eredivisie rights for 5 years, starting from 2025, for a significantly lower sum than the consortium has offered. Such a private arrangement with one party is contrary to competition law. Should there indeed be no public bidding process, then the consortium will submit an enforcement request to the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to compel a public, transparent and honest bidding process. At the same time, the consortium will ask the ACM to review the admissibility of the process awarding the exploitation rights to ESPN. The consortium informed the ECV of its intentions by letter this afternoon.

The consortium has persistently tried to enter into talks with ECV about the Eredivisie rights. This is because the consortium believes it can present the ECV with a very competitive offer for the Eredivisie broadcasting rights through a formal bidding process, one that is more lucrative for Dutch football clubs and the Dutch public than any other offer currently available. The consortium sent a letter on 3 May 2023 proposing a collaboration with ECV for its collective rights, part of which includes a net fee of 180 million euros per year for the clubs. This is a guaranteed net sum of 180 million euros for distribution among the participating Eredivisie clubs. The distribution of the remaining net rights revenue is to be clarified via a formal bidding proposal. This initial offer was also presented by video to all clubs.

“Several attempts have been made to come to the table with ECV, but without success. Although ECV indicated that it would come back to us when it was opportune for them, ECV continued covert negotiations with Disney. It’s a world turned upside-down that ECV is now giving the impression, through the media, that the consortium has been silent. ECV never entered into further talks with the consortium. Despite our repeated requests, the wishes of ECV, the individual football clubs and any other stakeholders have not been set out in a clear bidding process. Since March 2023, the ECV has not indicated to us in any way that a formal bid would actually be requested or that a bidding process would be initiated. Nor when that would happen”, said a consortium spokesperson. 

The consortium also guarantees the broadcasting of the Keuken Kampioen Division (KKD), the Azerion Women’s Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup. Furthermore, all leagues will be produced and distributed to at least the same current high quality, and the consortium will give a 100% distribution guarantee for matches and plans to invest more in women’s football and the KKD. In addition, the rights can be sold to OTT parties, allowing for other audiences and revenues to be reached. The consortium also has a preference for the production to continue in the current way of working with the existing companies and people.

In 2004, the ACM communicated that the sale of football rights should take place by following a “public, transparent and non-discriminatory bidding process”. Under competition law, the same applies to other national leagues in the European Union. Why ECV is not currently taking this route is puzzling. After all, a public bidding process arguably leads to multiple interested bidders and higher prices for rights holders.